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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reading List: The Unwritten Rules of Baseball

Dickson, Paul. The Unwritten Rules of Baseball. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-156105-4.
Baseball is as much a culture as a game, and a great deal of the way it is played, managed, umpired, reported, and supported by fans is not written down in the official rulebook but rather a body of unwritten rules, customs, traditions, and taboos which, when violated, can often bring down opprobrium upon the offender greater than that of a rulebook infraction. Some egregious offences against the unwritten rules are, as documented here, remembered many decades later and seen as the key event in a player's career. In this little book (just 256 pages) the author collects and codifies in a semi-formal style (complete with three level item numbers) the unwritten rules for players, managers, umpires, the official scorer, fans, and media. For example, under “players”, rule 1.12.1 is “As a pitcher, always walk off the field at the end of an inning; for all other players, the rule is run on, run off the field”. I've been watching baseball for half a century and I'll be darned to heck if I ever noticed that—nor ever recall seeing it violated. There is an extensive discussion of the etiquette of deliberately throwing at the batter: the art of the beanball seems as formalised as a Japanese tea ceremony.

The second half of the book is a collection of aphorisms, rules of thumb, and customs organised alphabetically. In both this section and the enumerated rules, discussions of notable occasions where the rule was violated and the consequences are included. Three appendices provide other compilations of unwritten rules, including one for Japanese major leaguers.

Many of these rules will be well known to fans, but others provide little-known insight into the game. For example, did you know that hitters on a team will rarely tell a pitcher on their own team that he has a “tell” which indicates which pitch he's about to throw? This book explains the logic behind that seemingly perverse practice. I also loved the observation that the quality of books about a sport is inversely related to the size of the ball. Baseball fans, including this one who hasn't seen a game either live or televised for more than a decade, will find this book both a delight and enlightening.

Posted at June 14, 2009 22:05